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Open space versus parks

And Now, Anacostia rebuts Marc Fisher's criticism of a soccer stadium at Poplar Point. ANA and my commenters make several points, including that the money would be for infrastructure like roads rather than for the stadium itself (unlike with the ballpark), or that Fisher simply prefers baseball to soccer. Ryan Avent, though, is still skeptical.

The plan for Poplar Point.

One of the most interesting issues to me is the question of open space. ANA writes, "Poplar Point is not parkland. It is vacant land, with a few buildings on it currently used by the National Park Service." Clark's plan for Poplar Point contains a park called "The Preserve" (as maintaining some parkland was a requirement for all bids).

Many debates over development include arguments between keeping a larger amount of less usable open space versus creating discrete parks within a developed area. In Takoma Park, opponents are decrying the loss of "open space" that's mainly WMATA parking lots and a few tree-covered berms, while the development plan would create a "village green" that's smaller, but more actually usable. Likewise, anti-development forces in Brookland are centering their complaints around open space, which others call a "trash-strewn chain-link blight."

The design for Poplar Point seems to do the best with what it has. Making the stadium stimulate activity in the neighborhood depends upon generating foot traffic to and from games rather than simply a lot of car trips to parking next to the stadium. The deck over the 295 freeway is a key piece, connecting the new neighborhood with the old one and the Metro station. The stadium is near the deck and from the drawing, I don't see any surface parking lots.

If the deck doesn't get cut for cost reasons and the stadium can in fact draw more events beyond the 33 professional soccer games a year, this will be good for the area. If the project morphs into something like NYC's Atlantic Yards, where one building after another gets "postponed" and acres of "temporary" surface parking will last for ten years or more, then we'll prove Fisher right. I hope not.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


First, I can't tell for sure, but it does look like DDOT's plan for 11th-street bridge expansion would conflict with some of the building in the Clark plan.

Second, Kunstler has been pointing out for a while that the terms "open space" and "green space" are abstractions that do not improve the quality of discussion about urban form. Even "park" isn't very specific: Meridian Hill park and Little Bennett Regional Park are very different spaces with very different purposes.

I really think that in an urban setting, parks are for people. (Which is to say, unlike large parks well away from the city, urban parks shouldn't be thought of as wildlife preserves, in part because urban parks are necessarily going to be low-grade edge habitat.) And the current configuration of Poplar Point certainly doesn't draw many people.

Of course, demolition by neglect of parkland shouldn't be acceptable, so the question is whether the right thing to do is to improve the parkland so that more people feel compelled to use it.

My thinking about this changed after reading A Pattern Language. The authors extoll the virtues of "public green," but their study of park usage suggests that people rarely travel more than 3 minutes, or about 750 feet on foot, to use a park. So I tend to think that large parks will always tend to be under-utilized, and, as with superblocks and block-sized office buildings, ought not to be standard. In a city, we need lots of smaller parks.

(It really irks me to see artists' renderings of projects that are filled with people walking around and using benches and the like, when experience has shown that the types of spaces in the renderings actually don't have any pedestrian traffic at all.)

by thm on May 30, 2008 1:48 pm • linkreport

I think we should be careful not to repeat mistakes simply for the sake of fairness.

Many people feel the baseball stadium deal was a mistake, that we paid way too much for what we got. I feel we could have gotten the Nationals for far less - were they really going to go to Portland?

If the argument is, 'Well, we gave baseball too much money to build their stadium so it's only fair that we do the same for soccer' that just doesn't hold water. This project should stand on its own - and when compared to other possible uses of the money. For example, $150 million could build a nice set of soccer fields and pay to run several youth leagues. Is pro soccer really a better use?

by DC on May 30, 2008 4:20 pm • linkreport

Nice post. I think it would be a very different argument if we didn't already have the massive open space of Anacostia Park right next door, where there are no plans for any kind of development. Anacostia is greatly lacking in any kind of more formally defined parkland, as well as any sort of destination. That is why I think it is okay to develop Poplar Point, and as part of that to include a stadium. I don't think that the stadium will be a silver bullet of any sort, nor do I argue from any standpoint based on finances. My arguments are solely based on what I think will be in the best interests of present and future Anacostia residents, as well as visitors to the area.

Keep up the Great work by the way!

by DG-rad on May 30, 2008 5:26 pm • linkreport

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